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The Hurt We cause

Updated on September 18, 2012

The Hurt We cause

De Greek

It is astonishing to what degree the basic human principles of justice, compassion and fair play are universal, as is the feeling of guilt for personal acts of cruelty, irrespective of one’s background, country of origin, skin colour, religion or education. As, of course, also universal are humanity’s cruelty, pettiness, selfishness, unfairness and an astonishing ability to justify the most horrendous acts of barbarism with a theoretically glorified end result as a justification of the means.

I say this because a lot of us have been indoctrinated to automatically expect human beings in primitive tribes for example, to be deficient in the positive aspects, i.e. those aspects of compassion, guilt and regret for personal acts or omissions. This, in spite of the example of “civilised” Europeans causing unimaginable agony on their fellow human beings in the heart of Europe during WWII, for reasons which most of us are incapable (I hope) of comprehending. I recently had cause to feel considerable shame for my attitude towards our more isolated brethren in Africa, through a documentary called “Tribe”, on one of the educational channels. The adventurer in charge of the programme documents his stay with various tribes around the world, living as a member of different remote, primitive and mostly self sufficient people.

In one of these series, he visits the village of an isolated tribe somewhere in deepest West Africa, apparently known for its religious belief in a kind and forgiving God, whom they contact through the use of a drug found in the root of a tree. After about a month of living with the villagers, they trust him enough to put him through the religious process of acceptance into their religion and their clan. For three days he is fed the apparently disgustingly bitter tasting root containing the drug, in steady but reducing doses and for three days he vomits and purges himself continuously. After the first hour or so of this torture, the camera crew is banned from the hut where the process takes place and we, the viewers, are thankfully shown only the first bouts of violent vomiting.

The adventurer subsequently describes his experiences on camera. It appears that all who take part in this ceremony of acceptance into this particular religion go through the same drug induced and drug enhanced emotions. Our adventurers’ case was no different from the others. The drug brought rushing back to his memory, past and long forgotten and unwelcomed instances of acts or words of unkindness he was guilty of. He said that his recollection even took him back to actions he took as a child, to his earliest possible childhood remembrance. Under the influence of the drug, he was forced to experience the actual hurt he caused to his victims by the various long forgotten deeds of cruelty he had actually perpetrated in reality months, years or even decades before.

One could see in his face his shock and actual shame at having caused the pain he now actually experienced himself exactly as his actual victim did at the time of the offence. Having experienced the victim’s real pain, with himself on the receiving end, one could see how regretful he was at having committed those various acts and how he wished he could take them back. This was an ordinary human being, who had spoken unkindly to, or had taken advantage of a brother, waiter, cousin, warden, friend, secretary, girlfriend, or wife and was now feeling the deepest possible regret for having done so. It certainly was not acting. In fact he felt the need to explain himself by saying that basically he was an averagely decent human being, who had at times in the past behaved in ways which he was not proud of and would now shamefully and willingly correct those instances if at all possible.

For those who might think that there are secondary benefits to using the drug, I hasten to underline that those who go through the process are not anxious to repeat it due to its extremely painful and unpleasant nature.

What we have here is a group of supposedly primitive people who go through a very painful process, in order to experience the hurt, the sting and injury their own acts of cruelty cause to others. By feeling the damage they cause to others through their words or actions, they become restrained in repeating acts which wound their fellow man. How wonderful is that?

We all could learn so much from this, especially those of us who are parents, but we can also go a lot further than that. By seeking to understand the hurt we have caused each other in past conflicts and challenges, be they in business, in religious conflicts, in expansionist wars, in colour differences or elsewhere, we just might begin to celebrate each other’s differences and each other's right of choice. We might even learn to support each other in such choices.

As individuals, human beings are generally a kind, generous and hospitable species. It is only when the herd instinct is taken advantage of by eloquent and gifted maniacs that we forget our inherent love of our brethren of other colours and beliefs that we fall into the traps set for us and we then forget our true selves and follow shameful paths. If only we could experience the hurt we cause.

Dimitris Mita

De Greek

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